Commonwealth Honors professor Madalina Akli has been chosen as one of the twelve recipients of the 2020-21 Teaching for Inclusiveness, Diversity, and Equity (TIDE) Faculty Fellowship. TIDE ambassadors explore how they can enhance students’ learning and academic success across cultural, social, and learning differences by adopting a strength-based inclusive and equitable approach to teaching and learning, grounded in the value of diversity.
“I am thrilled and honored to join a highly interdisciplinary group of like-minded colleagues from education, public health, civic engagement, humanities, sociology, nursing, and STEM,” Professor Akli said. “I will be bringing in my personal experience as a previous international graduate student, first generation graduate, and current instructor and advisor. I will also learn and increase my confidence in talking ethically and empathetically about the sensitive topics of inclusion, diversity, and equity in ways that nourish confidence in others as well and promote curiosity and reciprocity.”
As the director of the Office of National Scholarship Advancement (ONSA) and the International Scholars Program (ISP), as well faculty member at Commonwealth Honors, Professor Akli teaches topics relevant to international education and cross-cultural communication. Through her work, Akli introduces students to the challenges of navigating cultural differences, which allows students to inwardly reflect and assess their intentions and values before engaging with others across the world.
While Akli had previously led students to focus outwardly on discovering differences, she felt her course curriculum was unsuccessful at driving students’ ability to integrate cultural differences to their own lives in a profound way. Since then, she’s adapted her teaching approach to successfully further student engagement, allowing students to transgress cultural differences and recognize cultural similarities.
“I have introduced reflection activities, such as the writing of an auto-ethnography, a personal and cultural map, and role-playing activities that make students turn inwardly and mindfully reassess their own intentions and values before engaging with distant others,” Akli said. “I have found that students’ engagement while abroad has a different grounding that is more meaningful, ethical, and sustainable.”
She has also adapted this approach to her one-on-one ONSA scholarship advising, which attracts talented and well-rounded students with exceptional potential for leadership and community engagement.
“I challenge [students] to explain their motivation in the light of their personal values,” said Akli. “I encourage them to question their motivations by seeing the help they offer to others beyond their academic capacities and often privileged status.”
Akli’s desire to contribute to this culturally focused fellowship program draws from her own experiences as a tri-national and tri-lingual in English, French, and Romanian. While she previously felt she would often subliminally integrate herself into new cultures, Akli became more aware of the implications of cultural integration most when she joined UMass in 2017. Since joining the UMass faculty, she has joined the International Studies and Status of Diversity Councils on campus.
“It is with the goal of bridging personal experience, formal knowledge, and best practices around equity and diversity that I have joined two university councils and have applied for the TIDE ambassadors program,” Akli said. “It is empowering both for the individual and TIDE program when a fellow speaks from her personal experience as well as from the professional grounding that the TIDE program offers.”
Under the fellowship, Akli will receive $1,500 in funds as compensation that can be used to further professional development. With this stipend, she will present “Growth and Resilience: A Win-Win Supportive Model of Success in Fellowship Advising” at the National Collegiate Honor Council Conference in Dallas, Texas. Her presentation will introduce a mindful model of advising for national scholarships, which promotes discovery, resilience, and growth.
“Leaving the fear of failure of not winning an award behind, this approach promotes all applicants as winners no matter what,” said Akli. “One can be awarded a national scholarship or not, but there is no loser. The writing of a scholarship application is a valuable process which propels students to success, either for the particular application at hand or for later stages in their lives.”
As a part of the fellowship, Professor Akli and other recipients will participate in several group activities including a three-day intensive introductory institute, cohort meetings throughout the academic year, CTL Teaching and Professional Development Series events, and a day-long retreat. Faculty fellows will take what they learn from these experiences and develop a project to share what they've learned at the departmental, school/college, or campus-wide level.